For many, the mention of Egypt immediately suggests images of the Sphinx and the famous pyramids. In addition to offering these iconic sites, Egypt is a place rich in faith destinations for the three Abrahamic faiths—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam—since members of these faiths lived peacefully together in the country for many years. Faith Travel Association member Egyptian Educational Travel offers several faith-based tours that can be combined with the country’s historical and cultural destinations.
Company founder and owner Romani Gaballa is more than a tour operator—he is an Egyptologist as well. Gaballa earned a bachelor’s degree in Egyptology (the study of ancient Egyptian history, language, literature, architecture, art, and religion) from the University of Cairo, did graduate work in Coptic archeology and business administration, and is a certified Egyptologist tour guide. “I wanted to be an Egyptologist since I was young,” says Gaballa, “and I am fortunate to be able to use my education every day in a career that I love—sharing my homeland with the world.”
By being an Egyptologist, Gaballa is able to provide travelers with a higher level of expertise at Egyptian cultural sites. “The knowledge I share comes from my education and my passion for these places.” says Gaballa. “As an Egyptologist, I’m able to help create a once-in-a-lifetime travel experience by sharing Egypt’s 5,000-year history in connection with the places that we visit.”
Gaballa also feels strongly about leading faith-based tours: “Egypt was a crossroad for the three religions—Christianity, Islam, and Judaism—and we have so many well-preserved ancient religious sites.”
Groups can visit ancient churches and monasteries, mosques, and synagogues, and Gaballa can arrange meetings with religious leaders of these different faiths.
Gaballa offers faith-based tours for each of the three religions. For example, the five-day Jewish Heritage Tour allows groups to examine the history of the Jewish population in Egypt, which once numbered 70,000. The itinerary includes visits to synagogues, and guests can follow the route of the Exodus and climb Mount Sinai where Moses received the Ten Commandments. In Cairo, groups can visit with current-day Jewish citizens, see the only synagogue still in use (Shaar Hamshayem or Heavenly Dome), and learn about the Cairo Genizah, an important collection of Jewish manuscripts discovered in Cairo in the 19th century.
The Islamic Art and Culture Tour includes visits to ancient mosques and palaces, stunning gardens, and medieval homes of wealthy Muslims. Groups can observe or participate in the call to prayer at a mosque and meet with local Muslim imams. The Muslim Moulid festivals, which celebrate the birthday of prophet Mohammad and other Muslim saints, occur throughout the year and offer a rich cultural experience.
Several Christian tours are available as well. The Holy Family Tour follows the footsteps of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus when they fled Bethlehem and came into Egypt, while the Catholic Tour combines the Holy Family Tour with visits to Catholic shrines and churches. The Mount Sinai and St. Catherine Monastery tour includes historical Biblical sites and a visit to one of the world’s oldest continually operated monasteries, built in the 6th century and now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Exodus Journey has become very popular and traces the route Moses and his people took from Egypt to the Promised Land. The tour begins in Cairo and goes through eastern Egypt and the Sinai Desert before arriving in Jerusalem. Travelers have the option of climbing Mount Sinai, just as Moses did, and they visit St. Catherine’s Monastery and the Suez Canal along the way.
Egyptian Educational Travel also offers mission trips for groups interested in giving back to the local community. Gaballa can arrange humanitarian work through area non-profit organizations that work with the needy in Cairo and other areas of the country. One example is St. Andrew’s United Church in Cairo, a church that works with refugees. Gaballa has taken several groups to work with that organization and then attend mass there. Says Gaballa, “Doing humanitarian work is a great way to build bonds of friendship in Egypt.”
Each of the company’s trips to Egypt include visits to the iconic and cultural sites, but Gaballa says the country’s important religious sites should not be overlooked. “At Egyptian Educational Travel we understand the importance of Egypt’s faith destinations, many of them offering one-of-a-kind religious experiences.”
Top photo: Saints Sergius and Bacchus Church in Cairo, Egypt
Photo by Romani Gaballa